Going to church, and letting it be…

I did something completely out of character while I was on holiday in New York in December – I went to church.

I’ll begin this post with a little disclaimer, just to cover my back. I went to a Roman Catholic church when I was a child, but stopped going before I became a teenager, through my own choice. Now, I don’t practice any particular faith, but remain open to most ideas. I don’t mind what other people believe or do, so long as they accept my choice to believe and do as I choose.

So, it was December 19th, pretty chilly, and I was in New York. The first stop on my itinerary was the World Trade Center site. When planning the trip, my mum and I had discussed going to the World Trade Center Memorial, but had both concluded that it seemed a bit clinical and lacked the personal touch that we had hoped to find. Instead, we decided to go to St Paul’s Chapel, also known as The Little Chapel that Stood.

St Paul's Chapel

Neither of us are particularly religious people, but we wanted to see the chapel’s exhibition of memorials for people who lost their lives in 9/11. The items on display were incredibly touching, even heartbreaking at times.

St Paul's Chapel

St Paul's Chapel

We didn’t really plan on staying for a service, but it was Sunday, and a service was about to begin. Out of curiosity, and to pay our respects, we decided to slip in at the back and stay for a while. It was made clear that everyone was welcome, whether local or visitors, and that it was fine to leave part way through the service.

I’ll admit that the idea of sitting through a church service was a little daunting, but it was cold outside and I was interested to know what it would be like. My experience of church-going was mostly Roman Catholic, and the older I had got the more I had disliked the style of worship in the Roman Catholic church. I found the hymns largely full of doom and gloom, and didn’t like the idea of going to confession (especially as a child). To me, the Roman Catholic church seemed to be more about confessing sins and repenting, than celebrating life or faith.

Everything about the service in St Paul’s Chapel surprised me, but nothing so much as the sermon by The Rev. Clayton Crawley. He spoke about the rush and panic up to Christmas, about the stress of having to tick everything off our to-do lists and get everything done. I guess his point was that we ought to remember the real meaning of Christmas, but what he emphasised was the need, in general, to slow down and simply… let it be. He kept repeating the phrase “let it be” and I knew what was coming. He suddenly broke into song, and sang the beginning of the Beatles’ classic:

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

(Lyrics: Paul McCartney)

I hadn’t realised how absolutely incredible those lyrics were until that moment when the Reverend began to sing and I felt a lump in my throat.

Couldn’t we all do with letting it be sometimes?

St Paul's Chapel

I had thought that my church-going experience in New York was pretty unusual until I discussed it with a good friend today. She’s a Christian, but not a Roman Catholic, and she made me realise that I had been basing my views on church (and perhaps religion in general) on my childhood experiences in the Roman Catholic church. This visit to St Paul’s Chapel, followed by a conversation with my friend, made me realise that there are a whole bunch of different ways in which people worship, and that people celebrate their faiths in so many ways.

Thinking back on the songs I used to sing at the Roman Catholic church I went to, the only one I can remember liking was Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. When I Googled it, I discovered that Sinead O’Connor has covered it, and it’s beautiful. So, if Sinead O’Connor can record songs that I used to sing at church, why shouldn’t songs like Let it Be, that perhaps weren’t intended for church services, be sung at church?

St Paul’s Chapel was interesting to visit from a tourism point of view, although I did feel a little awkward about taking too many photos of the memorials. If you happen to have the chance to visit there, I would recommend staying for a service, or even just part of a service. If, like me, you don’t really call yourself a Christian, don’t worry. I found it to be an inspirational and moving experience, with or without the belief in God. I believe in music, and I know that I will be humming Let it Be to myself all year, especially when I feel stressed or under pressure.

St Paul’s Chapel is on the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, but I went in the back from Church Street. I got off at the World Trade Center stop on the Subway.

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2 Comments on “Going to church, and letting it be…”

  1. Barbara says:

    It pleases me that you were able to take away, from that visit, a different sense of religion – it isn’t all doom and gloom. We at St. Anne’s are basically a happy crowd – we are there for each other and we have our fair share of laughter……….. yes, and sometimes tears. Life is a long road if you have to travel it alone. Happy Travelling!

    • Haikugirl says:

      Thanks for reading, Barbara! Yeah, I’m really glad I could get something from that experience. I’ll actually be spending this Sunday in a church in North London, too, so I’ll see what that brings! 😉


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